This past Tuesday, I attended an important lecture from speaker and activist, Amer F. Ahmed titled, “Addressing Islamophobia: Dispelling Myths to Break Down Barriers.” Amer provided basic information about Islam and then addressed many of the major myths surrounding the religion. I don’t believe that anyone should have to defend their religion but I respect individuals, such as Amer, that are willing to educate others on matters that they frankly shouldn’t have to. The opposition of Islamophobia has always been important to me, however, Amer’s speech reminded me of the importance of actively countering the false assumptions that surround Islam. Amer concluded his speech by asking allies to speak up (and Shout Out!) about the misconceptions surrounding Islam and I’d like to use this post to do just that. After providing some background information on Islam, I want to delve into the particular intersection of Islam and Feminism!
Extremists groups that commit violence in the name of Islam have brought unwarranted attention to the religion and have contributed to a lack of understanding about Islam, Muslims, and the larger Arab world. If your grasp on Islam is tenuous, watch THIS informative (and fun) video on the basics of Islam. Read THIS article about the many misconceptions surrounding Islam. It’s important to educate ourselves in order to separate Islam from the events happening under the name of “Islam.”
Feminism and Islam:
Many people have misinformed ideas about the role of Islam in the life of its female followers, and while I am not a Muslim woman and I cannot speak for Muslim women, I wanted to, at least, offer some clarification. Muslim women are often portrayed as “oppressed” in Western society, but many Muslim women disagree with that interpretation. Here are just a couple of facts I thought our readers would find interesting:
- The Qur-an (60:12) explicitly gave women the right to vote and own property over 1400 years ago. American women weren’t allowed to vote until 1920.
- Modesty is a requirement for both men and women in Islam, not just women. Both sexes are encouraged to wear loose fitting, modest clothing.
- Divorce is permissible in Islam, unlike many other religious traditions.
- The practice of head-covering is not exclusive to Islam and has many references in Christian and Jewish traditions.
I’m only addressing the major misconceptions but it’s important that you do your own research!
To further explore the role of feminism in Islam, I went to one of our leading women here on JMU’s campus, Najeeha Khan. Najeeha is a Muslim woman and is the President of JMU’s Muslim Student Association (MSA). She exemplifies what it means to a passionate and caring leader, a devoted student, and an active citizen. I asked Najeeha, “How does your faith inform your feminism?” and this is how she responded:
“For me, not only does my faith really [in]form my sense of justice, it simultaneously validates it and challenges it. Through my faith I was taught to leave a place better than how I found it–whether that’s my locality or the world, whether on a physical level or spiritual/moral level. And that sense of responsibility is what makes me a feminist. The understanding that equality of thought, speech, expression and so many other liberties which are not guaranteed to women as it is to men looks like injustice. My faith makes me want to work actively against this. Islam makes me a feminist.”
With those powerful words, I would like to remind our readers that not everyone has the same faith (or any faith) and feminism looks different for everybody. It’s important to respect the beliefs and choices of those around us and inform ourselves when we may have misunderstandings. I hope this post provided a helpful jumping off point for understanding the complex and rich intersection between Islam and feminism!